Tomorrow Paila boisakh, the first day of Bengali New Year, will be lacking the usual fizz. The excitement has almost been snuffed out by COVID- 19 which has done what other unwelcome and unexpected happenings including the three conflicts of 1962,1965 and 1971, the Naxalite upsurge, the Emergency, the disturbances after Indira Gandhi’s assassination and subsequent sociopolitical upsets and upheavals could not affect.
Few shops have got a fresh coat of paint as both the owner and the painter are wary of the invisible viral disease. The pavement shopkeepers and the army of bargain hunters who look forward to the Chaitra saleare conspicuous by their absence all over the city as well as in district towns wearing a deserted look inarguably the first time in so many decades.
For a housewife like Milli Paul, no bargains are to be struck. As for a businessman like Babul Dutta, there is not even a far-fetched possibility of registering brisk sales and a tidy profit from there. Coronavirus has forced them, and countless others to stay indoors.
Unlike the previous occasions the Paila Baisakh, tomorrow will not be a day when the volume of business, be it at the roadside shop selling sanitary goods or the neighbourhood clothing store, can match a day of sale on any of the pre puja weeks, a point on which both housewife and the shopkeeper agree.
During the previous years, this date was marked by a drive to Dakhineswar almost at daybreak for Surojit Dutta who sells designer clothes. A dealer in building materials, Subrata Banerjee will not be walking to Kalighat temple. Though the goods they deal in widely differ, the two traders never missed a trip to the temple of their choice on this day to bless their halkhatas.
Many others, like them, seek the blessing of the goddess for bigger profits. The touch of warmth heightened by the offering of refreshments, gifts, a Bengali calendar, for anyone who steps into the shop on this evening will be markedly absent. It is a small consolation that a hearty meal of Potoler dorma, Doi machh, Pabdar Jhal, Kosha Mangsho and Aamer Chutney will not leave a dent in the middle- class household budget tomorrow.
The affluent will miss their Nabobarsha lunch at their clubs, and five-star hotels. It would be “business as usual” for some who are working from home. As this “expanding tribe” and others stay behind locked doors fighting the invisible ailment, they will put their chin up and email and wish others Subho Nababarsha.